Applying Anticipated Mobility to Sedentism Analysis of Pre-Hongshan Cultures in North-East China

Eras Journal – Anderson, R.: “Applying Anticipated Mobility to Sedentism Analysis of Pre-Hongshan Cultures in North-East China”.

Applying Anticipated Mobility to Sedentism Analysis of Pre-Hongshan Cultures in North-East China
Randy Anderson
(La Trobe University)

The Pre-Hongshan Cultures

Pre-Hongshan is a broad category that includes more than two-hundred sites belonging to at least two cultural complexes that inhabited southern Inner Mongolia and western Liaoning of North-East China (Dongbei): the Xinglongwa (c. 8500-7000 BP) and the Zhaobaogou (c. 7000-6500 BP).[1] The Pre-Hongshan presence in the archaeological record is scant, but intriguing. Thus far, relatively few habitation and burial sites have been excavated, but they offer what appears to be the earliest evidence in the area for permanent habitation of villages, ceramic production and the domestication and cultivation of plants and animals.

More than one hundred archaeological sites have thus far been identified as Xinglongwa, but only about ten have been excavated. The sites covered in this paper are Xinglongwa, Baiyinchanghan, Chahai and Nantaizi. In the case of Zhaobaogou sites, nearly one hundred have been identified so far, but, as with Xinglongwa sites, only about ten have been excavated.[2] Sites include in this study are Zhaobaogou, Xinle, Nantaidi, Xiaoshan and Xiaoshandegou.

Xinglongwa and Zhaobaogou sites are both usually on slopes and were built to a somewhat standardised plan. The houses were laid out in straight rows that were close together with the largest house of each row usually in the centre of its row. Occasionally, the largest house in the settlement was also in the centre of the village. Houses were semi-subterranean, rectangular structures supported by wooden frameworks.[3]

With dates between eight and seven-thousand years ago, Xinglongwa and Chahai are the earliest known Neolithic sites in Dongbei. Both sites had houses, burial and refuse pits, pottery, stone and organic implements. The two sites have the oldest known pottery in Dongbei and the earliest jade implements in China.[4] However, the available evidence does not decisively demonstrate whether these ancient cultures were completely sedentary or if the villages they built were seasonal habitations. This paper analyses Pre-Hongshan sedentism using the concept of anticipated mobility, focusing on the amount of labour invested in building settlements.

Figure 1

Pre-Hongshan sites

1 Baiyinchanghan

4 Nantaidi

7 Xiaoshan

2 Nantaizi

5 Zhaobaogou

8 Chahai

3 Xiaoshandegou

6 Xinglongwa

9 Xinle

Table 1[5]

Pre-Hongshan 14 C dates


Lab. #


Uncal. date BP

Date – BC





7470 ±115





7240 ±85





6965 ±95





6895 ±205





5660 ±170






7040 ±100



6590 ±85



BA -93001


7360 ±150




6925 ±95





6220 ±85





































lower level





lower level





upper level





Table 2

Chronology of Archaeological Cultures

Xinglongwa, Zhaobaogou, Houwa and Hongshan sites are in N.E. China.

Pre-Yangshao and Yangshao sites are in northern-central China. Chulmun sites are in Korea. Jomon sites are in Japan.

Natufian and PPN sites are in the western Lavant.

When discussing economies in this paper, Hongshan Yangshao, PPNA and PPNB are referred to as ‘late Neolithic’, because they all had well-developed agrarian systems compared to the less developed systems of the Natufians, Jomon and Pre-Hongshan.

Defining Sedentism

When analysing an archaeological culture’s degree of sedentism versus mobility, a very important factor must be kept in mind. Mobility and sedentism are not absolutes, but constitute a scale from totally mobile to completely sedentary. This is because no culture does or has in ethnographic and historical records existed entirely at either extremity, but instead exhibited some combination of sedentism and mobility. Likewise, gathering and cultivation do not, with the exception of industrialised societies, exist as sole extremes in any culture in historical and ethnographic annals. Most agricultural societies employ some degree of plant and animal gathering, many mobile foraging societies have included the gathering of wild cereal grasses in their diets[6] and examples of partially mobile farmers exist in the ethnological record.[7] It is, therefore, impossible to generalise about the links between degrees of sedentism and mobility in regards to different subsistence strategies. There is considerable variability in movement among both foragers and horticulturalists, both in how far and how often various groups of people move.[8]

The biggest difficulty encountered when discussing sedentism is defining what the word means. How stationary must a group of people be in order to be sedentary? Neither settlements nor the buildings of which they are composed last forever.[9] Therefore, sedentism is a relative concept that refers to a society’s long-term occupation of a single location. A particularly useful definition of sedentism is provided by Edwards, who defines it as “a system in which the greater part of the population of a community resides perennially at one settlement”.[10]

Another problem is determining the minimum length of time required for occupation to be considered sedentary. How long must a group of people stay in one spot before they can be considered sedentary? Some tribes in the Pacific North-West of North America inhabited individual sites for five to ten years before moving.[11] Among other societies, such as the Basarwa in southern Africa, a long-term occupation of a single site would be a stay longer than half a year.[12]

There are also societies that practise transhumance, which combines mobility and sedentism. In some cases, some members of the community remain in one location, often farming, while other members accompany seasonal migrations of domesticated animal herds. In other cases, the entire community migrates between seasonal sites.[13]Both types of transhumance can confuse the archaeological record, especially if the same residential sites are occupied repeatedly, because seasonal sites occupied every year over a period of many years can easily resemble a continuous occupation of a few years. In terms of defining what sedentism is, if a population moves between the same seasonal sites every year and remain at each site for several months, should that population be considered sedentary or mobile? This is a question of fundamental importance when studying the remains of cultures that existed before urbanisation. Transhumance clearly demonstrates that there is no sharp delineation between mobility and sedentism, but a gradation between the two.

The “home base” residential pattern, where some members move between hunting, gathering, quarry or other types of locations and the rest of the people stay at the base camp, can also cause ambiguity in the archaeological record. Two examples of such a pattern were seen in the past among the Owens Valley Paiute of the Great Basin in America and the Haida in Haida Qwaii on the west coast of Canada.[14]

Therefore, sedentism and mobility are best viewed in terms of degrees. This task is greatly facilitated by defining the gradation of the duration of settlements. I shall use the definitions provided by Roberts,[15] this system is both simple and applicable to most, if not all, situations.

Table 3

Scale of settlement duration.


Settlements of a few days duration.


Settlements of a few weeks duration.


Settlements of a few months duration.


Settlements of a few years duration.


Settlements lasting for several generations.

Combining these five terms with Edward’s definition of sedentism yields the working definition of sedentism that is used in this study; a system in which the greater part of the population of a community resides at one settlement seasonally, semi-permanently or permanently .

Anticipated Mobility

An important factor regarding the permanency of settlements that has received little attention, but which has enormous implications for determining the degree of sedentism of archaeological cultures, is the concept of anticipated mobility. The length of time a group of people remains in one location is determined by many factors, including availability of resources (including food), climate and interaction with other groups of people. Although many people have devoted study to settlement patterns, the effects of how long people intend to occupy a locality are usually overlooked. Emphasis is usually placed on the physical size of settlements, with the assumption that larger area reflects larger population, which in turn reflects increased degree of sedentism. Kent and Vierich, however, have discovered that anticipated length of stay is possibly the most important factor in determining settlement size and amount of labour dedicated to construction.[16]

Their ethnographic studies included three ethnic groups in Botswana: the Basarwa who are hunter-gatherers with some supplementary farming and pastoralism, the Bakgalagadi who practise mixed farming and pastoralism and the Batswana who are predominantly sedentary agriculturalists. The different peoples live in the same area and environment with territories overlapping, thus ruling out an ecological cause for their different degrees of sedentism. The three ethnic groups in the African studies share the same environment, but make different cultural choices. With differences in mobility patterns and spatial organisation being culturally determined instead of ecologically determined, the results of the study may be applicable to archaeological cultures.

Any stay intended to be short-term resulted in the building of a settlement with no more than 32 square metres per person, regardless of how long the settlement was actually occupied. Likewise, every settlement that was intended for long-term occupation covered an area of at least 67 square metres per person, regardless of how much or how little time the site was actually occupied. Although these cultures employed different subsistence strategies and degrees of sedentism, for each culture site size remained constant regardless of number of occupants, economic pursuit or actual length of habitation. It was the intended length of occupation that was the primary factor influencing the size of individual settlements.

A similar correlation was discovered between anticipated mobility and the amount of labour invested in construction. Three types of houses were built by these peoples: grass; interwoven grass and sticks; and mud brick. The grass houses were the weakest structurally and the quickest to build, requiring the least amount of labour. Grass and stick houses required more labour to construct, but were more durable. Mud brick houses were the most durable, but required the greatest amount of labour to build. Only grass houses were built at sites that were intended for short occupation, regardless of actual time the people remained in the settlement. Even if the settlement was occupied for more than one year, only grass houses were built, even among the Batswana, who are the most sedentary of the three cultures. For all three cultures, mud brick houses were only built if the settlement was intended for long-term occupation at the time of initial settlement.

The three cultures displayed the same site pattern. If a site was intended for a long stay it was laid out with an abundance of space and houses of both little and great effort were begun. If the settlement was abandoned soon, for whatever reasons that might arise, the remains of a large settlement were left behind. If a site was intended for a short stay it was laid out with an area of minimal space and only houses of grass were built. If the site was occupied longer than expected, neither was the settlement enlarged nor more durable houses constructed. Structure sizes did not vary with function. Just like settlements, houses increased in size with increased length of anticipated stay, but not with intended or actual function.[17]

Formal storage facilities were only built initially if the settlement was intended for medium or long-term occupation. No formal storage areas were built at any sites with an anticipated short occupation, regardless of actual length of occupation, even at agricultural sites. Failure to build formal storage facilities “was the case even at a Bakgalagadi camp that was specifically inhabited for farming endeavours”.[18] That is because the inhabitants continued to think they would be moving soon.

The correlation between increased labour in house construction and increased levels of sedentism is corroborated by evidence from other parts of Africa . Roberts’ cross-cultural survey of Sub-Saharan West Africa found a correlation between increasing levels of sedentism and houses being built with more durable material, and consequently, requiring more labour to construct. [19]

When ethnographic analogy is applied to the archaeological record, it must always be done with caution. There is no guarantee that what one group or several groups of people do now or did in the recent past is what pre-historic people also did in the remote past. However, I believe the nature of the African studies and their findings make this a case where ethnographic analogy can be applied to the interpretation of the archaeological record with at least a minimal degree of confidence. The studies of anticipated mobility simply put into quantitative form a common sense principle; the longer someone intends to stay in their home, the more effort they will be willing to put into building and maintaining it.

Sedentary Analysis

Comparison of Site Sizes

One factor commonly used as a criterion for determining degrees of sedentism is site size, with the assumption being that the size of a settlement increases as the degree of sedentism increases. However, too much importance should not be placed on the size differences between sites, because site size alone indicates neither mobility nor sedentism. Settlement size is a product of several factors including population, morphology of immediate geography, cultural beliefs, and site functions. For example, an irrigation network covering five hectares is known to have been constructed for the benefit of a small community in south-east Australia, where the irrigation network was larger than the area within the settlement used for dwelling space.[20] Therefore, the physical size of an archaeological settlement is a reliable indicator of neither population nor degree of sedentism.

Although site size should not be seen as all important in sedentism studies, it can still be a useful tool. There is ageneral trend toward increasing settlement size as various cultures evolved through their Neolithic stages,[21]including the cultures of Dongbei, the Central Plain area of China (Zhongyuan) and the Levant. Overall size increase is significant in the Levant , where early PPNA settlements were two to six-fold larger than Natufian sites,[22] but is not as pervasive in North and North-East China. In China the size of most settlements remained generally consistent, with most early Neolithic settlements (Pre-Hongshan and Pre-Yangshao) covering between 1 and 3 hectares and increasing slightly by late Neolithic times (Hongshan and Yangshao) to between 3 and 5 hectares for most villages. The big change in both areas was in the size of the largest villages. In Dongbei the largest Pre-Hongshan sites were around ten hectares in size, but the largest Hongshan sites were about twenty-five. Likewise, the largest Pre-Yangshao sites were between 8 and 12 hectares in range, but the largest Middle Yangshao site known is Beiyangping at 85 hectares.[23] The dramatic increase in maximum size of a small number of villages, while most settlements remained roughly the same size, may represent increased political hierarchies centred around dominant villages. However, as mentioned, most settlements did not increase appreciably in size, demonstrating that the physical area covered by any single archaeological site provides very little analytical information at the local scale. The size of a settlement usually takes on meaning only at the regional level of analysis, when differing sizes among settlements provide clues to regional hierarchies.

Figure 2 shows one of the problems that can occur if too much emphasis is placed on the size of a site. The largest settlements of the early Neolithic Pre-Hongshan were the same size as the largest settlements of the late Neolithic PPNB. Both were in the 10 hectare range. Settlements of different cultures can vary in size not only because of geography (topography and water bodies place physical limits on where people can live), but also for cultural reasons. The wide-ranging and unpredictable variable of cultural aesthetics and beliefs makes settlement size of little relevance in Neolithic studies as an independent variable.

Figure 2

Settlement size comparison (ha).


Dark bars are maximum settlement sizes.

Light bars are roughly estimated means of ‘typical’ settlement sizes. This is the range that most of the settlements are within and excludes the small number of settlements exceptionally larger than the rest within the culture or category.

Figure 3

Maximum settlement house numbers at some N.E. Asian sites.


* Houwa is a unique site. It is the only site so far attributed to the Houwa culture.

Totals are for the number of houses known to exist at each site. Some sites probably had more houses than can be found archaeologically.

Labour Invested in Construction

One of the central observations of anticipated mobility was the relationship between the amount of time the inhabitants planned to stay at a location and the amount of labour invested in construction. When Pre-Hongshan settlements are compared to the Houwa site in eastern Liaoning, the Yangshao settlements of Banpo, Jiangzhai and Dadiwan, the Pre-Yangshao settlement of Cishan, the PPNA settlement of Netiv Hagdud, and Hongshan and Natufian settlements in general, the following observations can be discerned.

At one end of the spectrum is the low level of labour invested into Houwa house floors. The walls were native earth with post holes in the floors. At the other end are Yangshao and PPN houses. Yangshao houses had supports within the walls and prepared floors with burnt mud surfaces. At Banpo, for example, houses had wattle-and-daub wall foundations with the upper walls and roof supported by large and small wooden posts. At least some houses in the Late Yangshao settlement of Dadiwan had the floor, walls, hearth and posts all coated in concrete-hard plaster. PPNA houses were built above stone foundations from unbaked mud bricks and had cobbled floors. The floors were almost always constructed of a thick plaster and painted, and the roofs were supported by multiple posts. At Netiv Hagdud there were house floors and foundations that stood on limestone slab foundations.[24]

Evidence shows Pre-Hongshan houses to be between these two extremes. Some Xinglongwa houses have hearths outlined with stones and with rocks at the bottom. Chahai and Baiyinchanghan had rectangular central hearths dug into the floor and lined with stone slabs. The bigger house at Xinle had a slightly more complex system of roof supports than at other Pre-Hongshan locations, with roof support posts radiating outward in three concentric lines from a central hearth. Xinglongwa houses had floors and walls of native earth like Houwa, but the floors were pressed. The ramming of the earth to make it hard required more labour than the completely native soil of Houwa floors. The labour levels of Pre-Hongshan house construction are similar to contemporary early Neolithic cultures in Zhongyuan, where Pre-Yangshao houses had pillars along the inner side of the wall and prepared floors of air-dried mud with grass binder. Pre-Hongshan house construction involved more time and effort to construct than the simple structures at Houwa, about the same effort as Pre-Yangshao houses, but were not nearly as labour intensive as the very well built structures of the Yangshao and PPN.[25]

At the Zhaobaogou site, each house has a square hearth at the centre and most of the houses have four post holes inside the walls; two to the north and two to the south. The floors of the bigger houses are divided into two stepped levels, with the northern section being higher than the southern and having a niche excavated into one of the walls. This anticipates developments among the Hongshan, where some houses have two rooms. At most Hongshan sites dwellings fall into two distinct groups: small houses with single walls and larger houses with double walls. Larger sites have a few ‘very large’ houses.[26] Although both the Zhaobaogou and Hongshan built houses with two rooms, a significant difference in the amount of construction labour is evident. While the Zhaobaogou simply demarcated the rooms with a split-level floor, which involved digging half the floor a few inches lower than the other half, the Hongshan separated the rooms with a wall, requiring at least a minimal amount of extra construction. The amount of labour invested in the construction of houses at the Zhaobaogou site – the simple arrangement of a small number of support posts inside the walls – resembles Houwa construction more than the late Neolithic cultures of Hongshan, Yangshao and PPNA.

A similar difference existed between early and late Neolithic cultures in Zhongyuan. The Pre-Yangshao house was an irregular circle with pillars along the inner side of the wall and a prepared floor of air-dried mud with grass binder; a ‘thatched shanty’, while the Yangshao house was a relatively regular circle or round-cornered square with supports within the wall and a prepared floor with a burnt mud surface. A noticeable difference between Yangshao houses and their Pre-Yangshao antecedents is labour intensity levels of construction, such as the treating of floors, walls, hearths and even roof-support posts in Dadiwan houses with a plaster that dried to the hardness of concrete. The same is true for house construction labour levels between Pre-Hongshan and Hongshan.[27]

Kent and Vierich suggested that the size of houses should be a reflection of anticipated mobility, with increasing anticipated length of occupation resulting in larger houses.[28] Table 4 shows that the average Pre-Hongshan house was about the same size as the average Hongshan, Houwa and Korean house at approximately 40-50 square metres. Either the Pre-Hongshan, Houwa and Chulmun cultures were as sedentary as the late Neolithic Hongshan, or the correlation between house size and anticipated mobility is incorrect. If anticipated mobility does determine house size in these cases, there may be a limit to its application. The relationship definitely appears to exist in the studies of the Basarwa, Bakgalagadi and Batswana. It is possible that the house size/anticipated mobility correlation is real, but only exists for small communities. The correlation may break down for predominately sedentary populations who devote a great deal of labour and time to working the land and require other uses for space than housing. That is unlikely, however, because the effects of anticipated mobility held true for highly sedentary agriculturalists in the African studies, whose house sizes were consistent with the foragers and forager/horticulturalists. Another possibility is that there may be a practical limit to house size. Increases in house sizes with concomitant increases in intended length of stay would result in extremely large houses if the intent was to remain for generations. Perhaps, once houses reach a certain size it is uneconomical to build them larger. The residents may consider it easier to build five houses with four or six people each, than to build one house large enough to house an entire extended family of forty. If this hypothesis is correct, then fifty or sixty square metres for the average house would appear to be the maximum practical size limit for early Neolithic residential buildings.

In summary, the Pre-Hongshan cultures invested levels of labour in house construction that was greater than the earliest Neolithic cultures, but not nearly at the level of late Neolithic cultures.

Table 4

House size comparison.


House Area (m 2 )



House Area (m 2 )




Korea *

20 (largest 70)



Jomon **

136 (largest)














one at 22.5
one at 95


15-20, 30-60, 70-120 [largest 290(late Y.S.)]






square houses; 50 round houses; 10-15


* These figures are based on a small sample size over a long period of time and therefore, may not be indicative of house sizes for all sedentary Korean cultures.

** No figure for a typical house is given, because such a number would be the average of all types of dwellings constructed over 12 000 years and would, therefore, be a misleading statistic.

Figure 4

House F2 at Nantaizi[29]

Figure 5

A house at Baiyinchanghan. [30]

Figure 6

A house at Zhaobaogou.[31]

Figure 7

House F7 at Zhaobaogou. [32]

Communal Construction

A conspicuous display of labour investment is the construction of monumental architecture and communal works. Communal structures include structures such as storage areas, cemeteries, kilns, irrigation networks, community ceremonial structures and large ditches. It is known from present and past cultures that public, or “ceremonial”, structures can indicate both the amount of labour used in their construction and the importance of ideology in emerging polities.[33] Communal, or public, construction often reflects its role in a society’s ideology by being large enough to require significant amounts of labour to construct, which makes them valuable in the study of sedentism in regards to anticipated mobility.

The likelihood of communal storage facilities is important to this study, because one of the relationships between anticipated mobility and construction noticed by Kent and Vierich was the construction of formal storage facilities. Evidence survives at Xinglongwa, Baiyinchanghan, Nantaizi and Zhaobaogou of what appear to be storage pits. Since the pits are not associated with particular houses, they were probably for communal use, which according to the anticipated mobility studies, suggests intended occupations longer than short-term. Although Pre-Hongshan storage pits are few in number, no kilns are yet recognised and there is scant evidence of graves; whether that is because they did not exist in quantity or because they simply have not been found is unclear. It must be kept in mind that pits are not the only method of storage. Structures can be built above ground out of perishable materials like wood and mud brick.

One form of communal construction evident at Pre-Hongshan sites is encircling trenches. At least a few Xinglongwa communities dug trenches around their settlements. Xinglongwa, Chahai and Baiyinchanghan all had encircling ditches.[34] Being between one and three metres wide and deep, such structures required a great deal of effort and time to construct, but could have served neither defensive nor irrigation purposes. They are too narrow to prevent attackers from crossing even if they were used as moats and are in the wrong locations to be irrigation channels. Irrigation ditches would have carried water from the river to crops in the outer parts of the floodplain, not up to the terraces where the residential areas were. They were also unlikely to have been protective works for livestock, since a fence is much easier to construct and would not provide animals with a hole to fall into and get hurt. This form of communal construction is intriguing, because a very considerable amount of labour was expended on the construction of what likely served only ritual uses. Where the ditches divided a settlement into two groups of houses, such as at Baiyinchanghan and Chahai, the ditches may have separated groups with different status or primary occupations, such as farmers from craft workers or farmers from hunters. They may have been related to beliefs of life and death. Similar ditches were built at Yangshao villages and some later Jomon sites appear to be related to the cemeteries.[35] Whether the ditches represented status, occupation, dead beliefs or some other manifestation of belief, they were most likely the product of worldview and unrelated to ‘utilitarian’ purposes.

Monumental Architecture

The most lavish form of communal construction is monumental architecture. In the context of this study monumental architecture is the building of structures that require huge amounts of labour and resources and are larger and more grand than they need to be to fulfil their functions. Because the purpose of such structures is to reinforce political and ideological values, they are built large in order to be conspicuous. They are manifestations of political power in the form of monuments for public display.[36] Although Neolithic cultures did not build structures as grand as the pyramids, a few of them did build monumental architecture on a smaller scale. Among the cultures included in this study, the Hongshan and PPNA both undertook monumental architecture as it is defined here.

Hongshan monuments involve ritual centres dedicated to mortuary ceremony. The Goddess Temple and large cairn burial tombs were major undertakings that obviously had great significance to the people. Among PPNA cultures, Jericho has a defensive ditch more than three metres deep. The tower at Jericho is another clear example of monumental architecture, but its significance to its builders is not clear.[37]

Where monumental architecture is present, its presence is significant. Monumental architecture identifies the society that built it as a very complex one, almost certainly having a stratified society with a highly developed ritual complex.[38] It is significant that of the cultures included in this study, only the PPNA and the Hongshan, both late Neolithic cultures, built on a monumental scale (at least as far as we know so far). Not all late Neolithic cultures built on a monumental scale, but none of the early Neolithic cultures appear to have done so. Therefore, monumental architecture is a likely indicator of a late Neolithic or later society.

The Pre-Hongshan do not show any signs of truly monumental architecture. However, Chahai and Zhaobaogou deserve special mention. The Chahai settlement has among its features a cobble ‘dragon’. The stone image is over nineteen metres long. It clearly indicates the existence of ceremony, because the purpose of such a structure could only have been as part of the society’s belief system.[39] Although not monumental, it may have been the first step. Likewise, a large altar has been discovered at the eastern edge of the Zhaobaogou site measuring 18.5 metres by 17.5 metres, and 1.3 metres high.[40] These examples suggest that Chahai and Zhaobaogou were may have been on the verge of late Neolithic development.

Mortuary Evidence

The number of Pre-Hongshan inhumations found thus far is small, but the few graves there are provide clues about Pre-Hongshan sedentism. The few burials at Xinglongwa sites have a significant and very interesting feature. All of the inhumations are under house floors.[41] Some researchers, such as Shelach, regard findings of burials as evidence of long occupation of the sites. Although the overall number of indoor burials is not great, the number is significant when compared to the numbers of houses. Of the 120 houses at the Xinglongwa site, forty have indoor burials (33%), while six of Chahai’s fifty-five houses (10%) and nineteen of Xinglonggou’s twenty-three excavated houses (80%) have indoor burials.[42] Zhaobaogou sites are the opposite of Xinglongwa sites. The few inhumations that have been found are next to the settlements. No indoor burials have been found.

For the Xinglongwa cultures, there is a significant number of intra-house burials. Since there is only one indoor burial in any one house, they are probably dedicatory in nature. They are also few in number. The relative abundance is due to a lack of remains for most of the inhabitants. The interred may be the founding ancestors or ancestresses of the families that occupied the houses and, therefore, represent an early form of ancestral worship.

As mentioned earlier, encircling ditches have been discovered at Xinglongwa sites. One interpretation is that the ditches separated the dwelling areas from the cemeteries, as was done by the Yangshao. This inference is based on the absence of graves within the dwelling areas. Whether relating to death beliefs or not, the ditches are large enough to have required a very large output of labour to construct. It is unlikely that frequently mobile communities would have exerted so much labour into ritual features of settlements that were abandoned shortly after construction. Therefore, these ditches are a probable indicator of sedentism.

Only a tiny number of people were buried within the dwelling area of Pre-Hongshan settlements. The cemeteries used for most of the population (if everyone was buried) must have been outside the ditches. This not only represents possible separation of the dead from the living as at Yangshao settlements, but is also a form of differential mortuary treatment, possibly representing status in life. The mortuary practices of the Xinglongwa cultures either involved inhuming the founding ancestors, ancestresses or the society’s elite members inside the houses, with everyone else was buried on the high ground above the floodplains; or the tiny number of people buried within the houses were the only ones interred and the other inhabitants were else cremated or exposed. The Zhaobaogou cultures did not bury people inside houses, but only a scant number of graves have been found near the communities. The likely mortuary practices are similar to those of the Xinglongwa. The small cemeteries were probably for the society’s elite and the rest of the people were either buried on the high ground outside the floodplains or were not buried. Since increasing levels of social hierarchy are usually concomitant with increasing degrees of sedentism,[43] the differential mortuary practices apparent at Pre-Hongshan sites, which indicate some degree of social hierarchy, are also likely indicators of sedentism.

Figure 8

House 180 at Xinglongwa[44]


Comparing the size of settlements, house numbers and amount of labour invested in construction, the Pre-Hongshan would appear to have been more sedentary than the earliest Neolithic cultures, such as the Natufian, at roughly the same degree as the Pre-Yangshao and at least some of the Chulmun cultures and not as sedentary as the late Neolithic cultures of the Hongshan, Yangshao and PPN.

In Figure 9.1 I have tentatively plotted the degress of sedentism for the nine pre-Hongshan sites analysed, by combining settlement size, communal architecture (ditches, storage pits, Chahai’s cobble dragon and Zhaobaogou’s altar), house size range, and maximum house size. The emerging social hierarchy indicated by differential mortuary practices supports the conclusion of significant degrees of sedentism. The settlements in group 1 were at least seasonal in duration and those in group 2 were occupied for at least a few years at a time.

When anticipated mobility is applied to Pre-Hongshan sites, the levels of construction labour alone suggest a minimum of medium-term occupation. That is why Nantaizi, Xinglonggou, Xiaoshan and Nantaidi are grouped together. The other sites are put in the second group, because of the presence of communal structures. The above analysis suggests that all of the sites are sedentary according to the working definition; a system in which the greater part of the population of a community resides at one settlement seasonally, semi-permanently or permanently . However, a common degree of sedentism is not indicated, as the sites included in group two show evidence of a slightly greater degree. The sites are generally not consistent with the base camp and seasonal sites model, because the settlements in general (such as ditch construction) and the houses in particular, all had levels of labour dedicated to their construction consistent with medium and long-term occupation, but no remains of small satellite communities or resource gathering/processing sites have been found. Instead, the evidence points to larger sedentary villages without temporary satellite sites. However, the large sizes of Baiyinchanghan and Zhaobaogou could theoretically fit into the model, with any dispersed people congregating periodically within these large centres.

Figure 9

Pre-Hongshan mobile-sedentary continuum


Nantaizi, Xinglonggou, Xiaoshan, Nantaidi


Xinglongwa, Chahai, Baiyinchanghan,Zhaobaogou, Xinle

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[1] Chifeng International Collaborative Archeological Research Project, Regional Archeology in Eastern Inner Mongolia: A Methodological Exploration, Science Press, Beijing, 2003.

[2] Xinwei Li, ‘Development of Social Complexity in the Liaoxi Area of Northeast China’, unpublished PhD thesis, Latrobe University, Melbourne, 2003, p. 95.

[3] Dashun Guo, ‘Hongshan and related cultures’, in Sarah Nelson (ed.), The Archaeology of Northeast China . Beyond the Great Wall, Routledge, New York, 1995, p. 47.

[4] Gideon Shelach,’The Earliest Neolithic Cultures of Northeast China: Recent Discoveries and New Perspectives on the Beginning of Agriculture’, Journal of World Prehistory, Vol. 14, No. 4, 2000, p. 402.

[5] Information from this table is taken from Li, ‘Development of Social Complexity’; Sarah Nelson (ed.), The Archaeology of Northeast China. Beyond the Great Wall, Routledge, New York, 1995.

[6] Lawrence H. Keeley, ‘Protoagricultural Practices Among Hunter-Gatherers. A Cross-Cultural Survey’, in T. Douglas Price and Anne Birgitte Gebauer (eds), Last Hunters First Farmers, School of American Research Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1995, p. 246.

[7] Ofer Bar-Yosef, ‘Natufian. A Complex Society of Foragers’, in Ben Fitzhugh and Junko Habu (eds), Beyond Foraging and Collecting. Evolutionary Change in Hunter-Gatherer Settlement Systems, Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York, 2002, p.93.

[8] Robert L. Kelly,The Foraging Spectrum. Diversity in Hunter-Gatherer Lifeways, Smithsonian Institution, U. S. A., 1995, p. 64.

[9] Brian K. Roberts,Landscapes of Settlement Prehistory to the Present, Routledge, London and New York, 1996, p. 19.

[10] Phillip C. Edwards, ‘Problems of Recognizing Earliest Sedentism: the Natufian Example’,The Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology , Vol. 2, No.1, 1989, p. 9.

[11] Robert L. Kelly, The Foraging Spectrum, p. 126.

[12] Susan Kent, ‘The Relationship between Mobility Strategies and Site Structure’, in Ellen M. Kroll and T. Douglas Price (eds), The Interpretation of Archaeological Spatial Patterning, Plenum Press, New York, 1991, p. 37; Susan Kent and Helga Vierich, “The myth of ecological determinism – anticipated mobility and site spatial organization”, in Susan Kent (ed.), Farmers as hunters. The implications of sedentism, Cambridge University Press, 1989, p. 115.

[13] R. W. Dennell, ‘Geography and Prehistoric Subsistence’, in J. M. Wagstaff (ed.) Landscape and Culture: Geographical and Archaeological Perspectives, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, p. 59; Hitoshi Watanabe, ‘The Northern Pacific Maritime Culture Zone: A Viewpoint on Hunter-Gatherer Mobility and Sedentism’, in Melvin C. Aikens and Song Nai Rhee (eds), Pacific Northeast Asian Prehistory. Hunter-Fisher-Gathers, Farmers, and Sociopolitical Elites, Washington State University Press, Pullman, 1992, p. 106.

[14] Robert L. Bettinger, ‘From Traveler to Procesor. Regional Trajectories of Hunter-Gatherer Sedentism in the Inyo-Mono Region, California’, in Brian R. Billman and Gary M. Feinman (eds),Settlement Pattern Studies in the Americas. Fifty Years since Virú, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington and London, 1999, p. 48; Aubrey Cannon, ‘Sacred Power and Seasonal Settlement on the Central Northwest Coast’, in Ben Fitzhugh and Junko Habu (eds), Beyond Foraging and Collecting. Evolutionary Change in Hunter-Gatherer Settlement Systems, Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York, 2002, p. 324.

[15] Roberts, Landscapes of Settlement, pp. 19-2.

[16] Kent, ‘The Relationship between Mobility Strategies and Site Structure’, p. 33; Kent and Vierich, ‘The myth of ecological determinism’, p. 103.

[17] Kent, ‘The Relationship between Mobility Strategies and Site Structure’, The Interpretation of Archaeological Spatial Patterning , p. 52; Kent and Vierich, ‘The myth of ecological determinism’, p. 121.

[18] Kent, ‘The Relationship between Mobility Strategies and Site Structure’, p. 39.

[19] Roberts,Landscapes of Settlement, pp. 121-34.

[20] Edwards, ‘Problems of Recognizing Earliest Sedentism’, pp. 17-18.

[21] Edwards, ‘Problems of Recognizing Earliest Sedentism’, p. 5.

[22] Bruce D. Smith, The Emergence of Agriculture, Scientific American Library, New York, 1995, pp. 72-76.

[23] Xiaolin Ma, ‘Emergent Social Complexity in the Yangshao Culture: Analyses of Settlement Patterns and Faunal Remains from Lingbao, Western Henan, China’, unpublished PhD thesis, Latrobe University, Melbourne, 2003, pp. 55-57.

[24] Ofer Bar-Yosef, ‘The Role of the Younger Dryas in the Origin of Agriculture in West Asia’, in Yoshinori Yasuda (ed.), The Origins of Pottery and Agriculture, International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Kyoto, 2002a, p. 50; Kwang-chih Chang, The Archaeology of Ancient China (Third edition), Yale University Press, 1977; Ian Kuijt and Nigel Goring-Morris,’Pre-Pottery of the Southern Levant’, Journal of World Prehistory , Vol. 16, No. 4, 2002; Ma, ‘Emergent Social Complexity in the Yangshao Culture’; Xing-bang Shih, ‘The Discovery of the Pre-Yangshao Culture and Its Significance’, in Melvin C. Aikens and Song Nai Rhee (eds), Pacific Northeast Asia in Prehistory. Hunter-Fisher-Gathers, Farmers, and Sociopolitical Elites, Washington State University Press, Pullman, 1992; Yulin Xu, ‘The Houwa Site And Related Issues’, in Sarah Nelson (ed.), The Archaeology of Northeast China. Beyond the Great Wall,Routledge, New York, 1995.

[25] Guo, ‘Hongshan and related cultures’, pp. 47-55; Shelach, ‘The Earliest Neolithic Cultures of Northeast China’, pp. 395-403; Shih, ‘The Discovery of the Pre-Yangshao Culture and Its Significance’, pp. 125-132; Wa Ye, ‘Neolithic Tradition in Northeast China’, in Melvin C. Aikens and Song Nai Rhee (eds), Pacific Northeast Asia in Prehistory. Hunter-Fisher-Gathers, Farmers, and Sociopolitical Elites, Washington State University Press, Pullman, 1992, pp. 143-152.

[26] Sarah M. Nelson, ‘The Neolithic of northeastern China and Korea’, Antiquity, Vol. 64, 1990, pp. 239-244; Gidean Shelach, ‘A settlement pattern study in northeast China: results and potential contributions of western theory and methods to Chinese archaeology’, Antiquity, Vol. 71, 1997, pp. 122-123.

[27] Ma, ‘Emergent Social Complexity in the Yangshao Culture’, pp. 52-67; Shih, ‘The Discovery of the Pre-Yangshao Culture and Its Significance’, p. 131.

[28] Kent and Verich, ‘The myth of ecological determinism’.

[29] Li, ‘Development of Social Complexity’, figure 3.7.

[30] Shelach, ‘Earliest Neolithic Cultures of Northeast China’, figure 16.

[31] Shelach, ‘Earliest Neolithic Cultures of Northeast China’, figure 15.

[32] Li, ‘Development of Social Complexity’, figure 4.8.

[33] Brian R. Pillman, ‘Reconstructing Prehistoric Political Economies and Cycles of Political Power in the Moche Valley, Peru’, in Brian R. Pillman and Gary M. Feinman (eds), Settlement Pattern Studies in the Americas . Fifty Years since Virú, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington and London, 1995, p. 136.

[34] Guo, ‘Hongshan and related cultures’, pp. 47-50; Shelach, ‘The Earliest Neolithic Cultures of Northeast China’, pp. 395-402.

[35] Kwang-chih Chang, The Archaeology of Ancient China (Third edition), Yale University Press, 1977, p. 213; Li Liu, ‘Ancestor Worship: An Archaeological Investigation of Ritual Activities in Neolithic China’, Journal of East Asian Archaeology, Vol. 2, No. 1-2, 2000, pp. 139-142; Judith Treistman,The Prehistory of China, an archaeological exploration, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1972; William Watson, Ancient Peoples and Places, China Before the Han Dynasty, Western Printing Services Ltd., Bristol, 1962.

[36] Pillman, ‘Reconstructing Prehistoric Political Economies and Cycles of Political Power in the Moche Valley, Peru’, p. 146.

[37] Guo, ‘Hongshan and related cultures’, pp. 44-46; Nelson, ‘The Neolithic of northeastern China and Korea’, pp. 246-247; Sarah M. Nelson, ‘Hongshan: an early complex society in Northeast China’, in Peter Bellwood and Dianne Tillotson (eds),Indo-Pacific Prehistory: The Chiang Mai Papers Volume 3, Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association, 1997, pp. 59-61; Gideon Shelach, Leadership strategies, economic activity, and interregional interaction: social complexity in northeast China, Kulver Academic/Plenum, New York, 1999, pp. 79-83; Brian M. Fagan, People of the Earth, Longman, New York, 1998; Kuijt and Goring-Morris,'”Pre-Pottery of the Southern Levant’, pp. 370-375; Smith,The Emergence of Agriculture, pp. 78-79.

[38] Sarah M. Nelson, ‘Hongshan: an early complex society in Northeast China’, p. 57.

[39] Tracy Lie-Dan Lu, The transition from foraging to farming and the origin of agriculture in China, British Archaeological Report International Series 774, Cambridge, 1999, p. 281.

[40] Li, ‘Development of Social Complexity in the Liaoxi Area of Northeast China’, p. 107.

[41] Li, ‘Development of Social Complexity in the Liaoxi Area of Northeast China’, pp. 65-72.

[42] Li, ‘Development of Social Complexity in the Liaoxi Area of Northeast China’, p. 71.

[43] Bar-Yosef, ‘Natufian. A Complex Society of Foragers’; Ian Hodder, Symbols in action. Ethnoarchaeological studies of material culture, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1982.

[44] Li, ‘Development of Social Complexity’, figures 3.6 and 3.8.